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Massachusets Governor Signs Mashpee Gaming Compact

Relations between states and tribes are often antagonistic, but the scene in Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s office confounded the stereotype.

On Monday, July 30, the governor’s office in the State House was jammed packed with citizens of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, members of the press, state officials, the mayor of the City of Taunton, and of course Patrick and Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell, all celebrating the signing of the tribal-state gaming compact. The tribe intends to build a $500 million destination resort casino in the southeastern part of the state.

Cromwell and Patrick shook hands, hugged, slapped each other on the back and sang each other’s praises for the cooperative, collaborative spirit of negotiations that went into the making of the state’s first gaming compact since Patrick signed a bill last November to allow up to three resort style casinos and one slots parlor to be licensed in the state. One of the casinos was reserved for a federally acknowledged Indian nation.

In April, the Mashpee nation unveiled plans for a $500 million destination resort casino in Taunton, one of the oldest cities in the country, located in part of the Wampanoag’s vast aboriginal territory that tribal ancestors called Cohannet. On May 17, Cromwell and Taunton Mayor Tom Hoye announced that they had negotiated an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) for the development of the tribe’s gaming facility. The IGA was required by the state before the tribe could move forward with its casino plans. The agreement will provide approximately $33 million in up front mitigation payments and a minimum annual payment to the city of approximately $13 million. Taunton residents approved the casino proposal at a binding referendum on June 9 by a vote of 7696-4571. Also in June, the National Indian Gaming Commission approved the tribe’s gaming ordinance and the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced the tribe’s land-into-trust application was under review.

Compact negotiations were tough as they always are, Patrick said, “but we have emerged from this process as friends. This is a fair deal for the Commonwealth (of Massachusetts) and for the tribe. I’m proud of the good faith negotiations and I’m proud of the outcome as well. It respects the inherent rights of the tribe while adhering to the principals set forth in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

Now that the compact is completed, attention will focus on final approval of the land-into-trust application, which the state has promised to support.

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“We are very mindful of how long the members have thought about and hoped for and worked toward this moment," Patrick said. "We're also mindful of how much work remains, and we intend to do that as your partner—respecting your uniqueness and your rights.”

Cromwell thanked Patrick, the legislators and everyone involved in the compact negotiations, which took place over the past four months since the unveiling of the tribe’s casino proposal.

“It’s been a good faith negotiation and we’re very excited, and very happy about where we’ve come to in this process,” Cromwell said. “This is a monumental historic day for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.”

The gaming compact calls for the tribe to share 21.5 percent of gross gaming revenue with the state, an amount that some people have questioned as excessive. But Aaron Tobey Jr., council vice chairman, said the compact preserves the tribe’s aboriginal hunting and fishing rights. “That has more value than the revenue sharing itself. That means so much to us,” Tobey said.

Cromwell said the compact is unique in Indian country. “Here’s the key point: I believe we’re the first tribe where the state and the government have negotiated a compact with a landless tribe based on the history of who we are as a sovereign federally recognized tribe with 12,000 years of history,” Cromwell said. “Everybody focuses on the 2.5 percent and says the tribe gave up too much, but the reverse of that is that the Commonwealth made concessions. They’re honoring our aboriginal hunting and fishing rights throughout our territories. We know what our territory is. We define that.”

Cromwell said he expects opposition to the trust land application, “but we can’t stop lawsuits and we can’t focus on that. We’re focused on our land into trust and moving our enterprise for economic development. Today was huge in getting the compact done,” Cromwell said.